THE PRICE OF FAME
SCOTT ORLIN reports from the set of Edtv, the new Ron Howard comedy in which Matthew
McConaughey’s Ed gets more than he bargained for when he wins 30 days of TV fame in a
Matthew McConaughey knows a thing or two about instant fame. After A Time to Kill, the
29-year-old actor saw his life go from relative obscurity to stardom almost overnight: his
face, which once basked in anonymity, now graced the cover of magazines like Vanity Fair.
So it’s a little ironic that he is now starring in a film about a guy who gets
catapulted into instantaneous celebrity.
"Ed and I aren't the same guy" Matthew McConaughey
"It's a nice mirror: it's pretty damn close," laughs the Texas-born actor,
rubbing his hand through the stubble of his beard. In Edtv, McConaughey plays Ed Pekurny,
a naïve young video-store clerk who wins a contest where the prize is having his whole
life aired on cable TV for the next 30 days.
The show catapults Ed to instant superstardom. But it also showcases every turmoil and
conflict that arises. Not only does it almost rip his dysfunctional family apart, but it
also causes him to lose his sense of self.
It's not really his story, though, says McConaughey. "A lot of stuff that I've
used from my own experiences is just reactions when you learn information for the first
time. Ed and I aren't the same guy. He's my age, but he didn't go to school. I think he's
a bit more of a simpleton, a little more of a boy. I never had this kind of scrutiny for
24 hours a day like Ed does. If I went out somewhere, it was all speculation. If Ed goes
out, the whole world knows about it."
"when celebrities do dumb things, it's exposed
You could be forgiven for thinking that the film sounds rather similar to last year's
The Truman Show - a point which, unsurprisingly, is not lost on the film-makers. Although
Edtv is loosely based on an obscure 1993 French-Canadian film called Louis XIX, King of
the Airwaves, director Ron Howard readily acknowledges that some of the themes are
comparable to the Jim Carrey vehicle. But, he points out, there are more differences than
there are similarities. "Truman was set in a completely created environment that is
unbeknownst to its principal," he notes. "In our film, the man knows what he is
doing and allows himself to become a celebrity."
Part of the appeal for Howard in making the film was that it examined the impact the
media can have on the lives of those who are caught in its glare. Having literally grown
up in public in such TV series as The Andy Griffith Show and Happy Days, a movie that
looked at what it meant to get all that public attention struck a chord.
"Anybody who is in the public eye can relate to this," says Howard. "You
know what it's like to have strangers calling out wisecracks from across the street at
inappropriate times, or to have embarrassing photos show up in newspapers and magazines,
or even just to do something stupid and not be able to keep it a secret. Let's face
it," he sums up, "everybody does dumb things. But when celebrities do dumb
things, it's exposed everywhere."\
"The fulfilment of fame has to come from within." Ron
Howard cast the movie with this celebrity theme in mind, utilising the talents of Woody
Harrelson as Ed's older brother, Ray; Elizabeth Hurley as his opportunistic girlfriend;
Jenna Elfman as Ray's jilted girlfriend; Ellen DeGeneres as the network executive; Sally
Kirkland and Dennis Hopper as Ed’s parents; and Martin Landau as his stepfather.
"All of the people in the film have pretty much found themselves in the media's
eye in some kind of interesting way," notes Howard, relaxing between takes on
Soundstage 19 on the Universal lot. "So, in that sense, from Woody to Jenna to Ellen,
there is a lot of relatability there."
Realising that it might seem hypocritical for a group of film-makers to show only the
pitfalls of fame, the director aims to take the audience with Ed on a comedic journey into
the implications of becoming a pop celebrity. Further, he hopes to explore the aggravation
and embarrassment that comes with it. "If there is a message," he declares,
"it would be not to avoid fame at all costs, but that its fulfilment has to come from
"I heard this idea and thought it would be a great
American comedy," Ron Howard
Although he scored early in his career with such comedies as Splash! and Parenthood,
Howard has recently been filling his dance card with more serious fare like Apollo 13,
Ransom, and Backdraft. So, for the award-winning director, Edtv marks a decisive return to
his comedic roots. "I heard this idea and thought it would be a great American
comedy," he says. "Plus, after all those other films, it's great to laugh in
dailies [rushes] again!"
For the screenplay, Howard turned to long-time collaborators Lowell Ganz and Babaloo
Mandel, two of the most sought-after writers in the industry. Having written the likes of
Splash! and Parenthood for Howard, they also worked together on such hits as City Slickers
and A League of Their Own. With EDtv, though, their most daunting task was opening up the
storyline from the original premise, while at the same time keeping it simple.
Howard likewise wanted the finished film to be simple, unself-conscious and
unpretentious. "I didn’t want to be preachy," he says. "It's very much
an entertainment piece, yet we are stepping into an arena where people think a lot about
these things and a lot is written about it. For us, the challenge has been to find a
balance because, hopefully, we will be playing to a real smart audience."
Part of the problem they faced was that the concept they were using was not completely
new. Back in 1970, the Public Broadcasting Service presented a series entitled An American
Family, where cameras invaded the life of the Loud family. More recently, MTV has been
running a successful series called The Real World, where the private lives of strangers
have become a staple of weekly entertainment.
Ganz believes the difference with EDtv lies in its examination of how the media
distorts real life. "Unlike other programmes," he stresses, "we see how
this show on cable is supposed to be an examination of someone's real life. But, once it
gets on TV, it's not real life anymore."
"Suddenly, you have this mirror in front of you all day
and all night" Ron Howard
Howard agrees. "Those are all edited documentaries and this is a little more - a
little bit more of how you live your life minute-to-minute, oblivious to what you are
doing. Suddenly, you have this mirror in front of you all day and all night. Not only do
you have to take a good hard look at yourself, but everyone else gets to look as well. And
that's where it gets funny."
Although set in San Francisco, the $45-million movie only shot in the Bay area for
three weeks. The remaining 11 weeks of production were spent in and around Los Angeles in
such exotic locales as a pool hall, a bowling alley, a cemetery and a hockey rink. In the
latter sequence, Howard was able to convince the National Hockey League to let him film
during two 15-minute breaks of a San Jose/Anaheim game - the first time such permission
has been granted.
One interesting twist the film-makers had to confront on set, meanwhile, were the
crossover moments between reality and the movie. For example, there were two sets of
production trucks: one contained props for the movie; the other was a prop. Likewise,
every scene is not just among the characters: it's also about the cameras in the room, the
people operating the cameras, the director in the truck and the network executives. Most
obviously, there are two mobile video crews which tape the cast’s goings-on for the
‘inner’ part of the story. "Sometimes, there have been moments where it did
get a bit confusing as to which camera is mine and which one is internal in the
film," grins Howard.
Look closely behind one of those cameras and you may recognise Clint Howard, Ron's
brother, who plays the cable show’s director. "He's having a blast with this
part," boasts Howard the older, who always casts his younger brother in his films.
"Most of his stuff will be shot after we've videotaped everything, but he is
As the title suggests, a lot is riding on the shoulders of Ed Pekurny, which means that
McConaughey, as the film's protagonist, really has to capture the audience's sympathy.
Initially, the part was written as a working-class guy from New Jersey, sort of in the My
Cousin Vinny mode. When McConaughey was cast, however, the script was geographically
tailored for him. "It's a much different sound than what the writers usually
write," notes Howard, "and I think it's really been refreshing."
"He is such a downhome guy who had this meteoric
rise," Woody Harrelson on Matthew McConaughey
If McConaughey is feeling the pressure, it doesn't show; and co-star Woody Harrelson
believes that he is entirely up to the task. "It's really appropriate for Matthew to
be playing this part, because he is such a downhome guy who had this meteoric rise,"
he says. Producer Brian Grazer agrees. "Matthew was chosen for his charisma and his
performance in the film Dazed and Confused. I think audiences will love him."
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